Carbon Engineering, a British Columbia-based company that has the financial backing of Bill Gates, has released a peer-reviewed study that demonstrates how the company’s technology is capable of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a cost of less than $100 per ton. This price represents a significant drop from current costs, which can run as high as $600 per ton. “This is a real step forward, and it’s not just our company saying it,” Carbon Engineering co-founder David Keith told BBC News. “I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic saviour which it isn’t, or that it is absurdly expensive which it isn’t, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way.”
Rather than storing the captured carbon, Carbon Engineering uses it to create a synthetic fuel with hydrogen, which is pulled from water using renewable energy. “What Carbon Engineering is taking to market is first of all carbon neutral fuels, in that sense we are just another emissions-cutting technology, there is no net removal from the atmosphere,” said Keith. The company claims that its fuel has a major advantage over traditional sources of biofuel due to its far less intensive water and land production requirements.
While Keith has admitted that there are “hundreds of ways in which we can fail,” the technology developments at Carbon Engineering are promising. “Although direct air capture cost of around $100 per ton is still somewhat steep, in our current situation where sticks and carrots for similar technologies are sorely lacking, the cost can only be brought down through further development and streamlining of individual technologies and conjugated processes,” Edda Sif Aradóttir, who has worked on a project in Iceland that turns captured carbon into rock, told BBC News. Carbon Engineering’s latest announcement is a reminder that the biggest obstacle to taking serious action against climate change is political. “The biggest challenge we are facing is, however, that the words agreed on in the Paris agreement must be followed by actions,” said Edda. The technical solutions to climate change are already available but national legislations do not provide enough incentive or obligations for them to be applied at a large scale. This must change quickly if we are to [fulfill] the Paris agreement.”